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SPIE leaders share President's Council and National Academies concerns for science and engineering education

Society supports education outreach and enables thousands of volunteer hours

06 October 2010

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- SPIE leaders have expressed support for recommendations made by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for meeting the urgent need to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the U.S.

The PCAST report, "Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education for America's Future," reiterates concerns raised in another new report from the National Academies, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5."

The reports -- both released last month -- find that America has fallen behind in STEM education and needs a sustained investment in education and basic research to keep from slipping further.

Jobs -- but no workers?

The Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University reported in June that there will be eight million jobs available in STEM-related fields by 2018. However, CEW said that American youth will not be prepared to fill those jobs: American 15-year-olds rank 21st in science and 25th in math internationally.

"These thoughtful and thorough reports -- prepared by some of the best minds in the country -- provide a troubling analysis of a major and immediate crisis," said M.J. Soileau, chair of the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy Committee. "It is imperative that Congress acts on these recommendations and not let them simply gather dust on a shelf somewhere. The consequences of doing nothing are simply too grave to ignore."

PCAST made seven recommendations:

  • Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.
  • Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade.
  • Recognize and reward the top 5% of STEM teachers, by creating a STEM Master Teachers Corps.
  • Use technology to drive innovation, by creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education.
  • Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom.
  • Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade.
  • Ensure strong and strategic national leadership.

SPIE support and commitment

SPIE activities already support many of the directions recommended by PCAST.

"SPIE has a long-standing commitment to supporting STEM education around the world, through grants for educational outreach programs, and Student Chapter and other activities," said Eustace Dereniak, SPIE Vice President. "SPIE Members devote thousands of hours annually as volunteers providing hands-on lessons and encouraging students to consider careers in optics and photonics, to help create a brighter world through their life's work."

SPIE volunteers participated in National Lab Day, and will be attending the USA Science and Engineering Fair in Washington, D.C., in October.

SPIE contributes $90,000 yearly to educational outreach projects, and offers grants, scholarships, and other awards. The Society's contribution to education and outreach programs exceeded $2 million in 2009.

SPIE has a lead role in establishing criteria for college and university degree-granting programs as a member of ABET, (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) for college and university programs in the U.S.

As an international society, SPIE also supplies free educational materials and supports teachers internationally through the UNESCO Active Learning in Optics + Photonics (ALOP), the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Winter College, and the Education and Training in Optics & Photonics (ETOP) conferences.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world.


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Amy Nelson
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